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Carmakers look to future at this year's LA Auto Show

December 1, 2017
The 21st-century U.S. auto industry is performing a skilled juggling act, and that performance is on stage Dec. 1-10 at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
Automakers are serving multiple masters. They are investing billions in self-driving technologies that many predict are the future of ride-sharing services and daily commutes. Yet, they also must maintain full-line product portfolios for driving customers on course to buy 17 million new vehicles for the third year in a row. 
The vast majority of those vehicles will be powered by cheap gas, yet carmakers also must meet the demands of governments such as California that are forcing carmakers into a regulated future of battery-powered vehicles.
Things got started Nov. 28 with the AutoMobility LA conference that brought together automakers, designers, computer engineers, academics, investors and others to share their visions of an autonomous future.
Executives from Panasonic, BMW and Waymo spoke on topics including "Redefining Mobility in a Connected World" and "Roadside Ransomware: Fact or Fiction?"
Their visions are hardly hypothetical. Automakers are already building self-driving chariots. Uber has announced a partnership with Volvo to put 24,000 Uber-bots on the road by 2019. The agreement puts the company on a "path toward mass-produced self-driving vehicles at scale," said Jeff Miller, Uber’s chief of auto alliances. Google-owned Waymo and Lyft have entered into partnerships with Chrysler (the Pacifica minivan) and Chevrolet (Bolt EV).
On the convention center’s floor, automakers rolled out their visions for an electric-car future. Using California’s clout as the largest auto market in the U.S., regulators there have set hard EV sales quotas — and state politicians are soon expected to follow the lead of European governments including France and Britain to eliminate the gas engine within the next two decades.
Luxury automakers BMW and Mercedes are displaying new, EV-focused product lines — the i-line and EQ-line, respectively — as they try meeting government requirements and compete with California electric start-up Tesla. Even retro-brand Mini Cooper debuted an EV concept.
Yet, Tesla’s inability to make a profit despite an average transaction price of $100,000 on its Model S and Model X electrics speaks to the difficulty of the industry’s challenge.
In California, rich with EV incentives and a battery-friendly weather, hybrid-electric/plug-in electric/pure electric vehicles make up just 9 percent of the market. Automakers aren’t ignoring the other 91 percent of customers and the profit-generating vehicles they covet.
The auto show doors opened to the automakers’ consumer masters and they have plenty of good ol’ driver-focused, gas-guzzling toys to ogle.
Detroit automakers rolled out new versions of some of the most iconic vehicles ever made: the 755-horsepower ZR1 and off-road star Jeep Wrangler. Lincoln is showcasing its Navigator on the LA stage for the first time.